Where Can I Find *Good* Unwound Gut Strings?

January 27, 2007 at 09:26 PM · Hi folks, I have come to the realization these last few weeks that I have really grown tired of the sound of synthetic strings and love the sound of unwound gut especially on the A&D strings. I find that the synthetic strings, as hard as I try do not get the kind of "singing" quality high up on the A-string that I have gotten when trying unwound gut. I have however had bad experiences in the past with unwound gut due to the fact I think I bought 2nd rate gut strings, and also due to the strings probably not being as well manufactured these days with the prevalence of synthetic strings. I tried Pirastro Chorda strings and they kept going out of tune every two seconds even after I had stretched them. Do any of you know of a good place to order gut strings from? Someone told me a string maker out in Oregon by the name of Damian Duglogecki is quite good, anyone have experiences with his strings? Thank you for your help.

NR

Replies (93)

January 27, 2007 at 09:51 PM · Dan Larson of Gamut strings is very good and less expensive. www.gamutstrings.com

January 27, 2007 at 10:01 PM · also google

Dlugolecki

January 27, 2007 at 10:16 PM · I've been using Gamuts on my baroque violins, and every player who's tried them has commented on how much better they are than other strings they've tried. I don't have any experience with other strings, myself....

January 27, 2007 at 11:58 PM · I have Dlugolecki strings (damianstrings.com) and they are quite durable. They are very stable from a tuning perspective--I find them more stable than wound gut and no less stable than synthetics.

There are a couple of interesting recent threads on here about gut strings, with input from some people who really know how to play, including Oliver Steiner and Christian Vachon.

By the way Nate, I enjoyed listening to your recordings a couple of years ago but haven't seen you post here in a while. That ois probably a good sign--lots of playing and less chatting!

January 28, 2007 at 09:43 AM · Hey everyone, thank you all for the great suggestions. Usually when a name comes up more than once it is a good sign I think, and it sounds as if Gamut Strings are rather reliable, I'll also look into Mr. Dlugolecki's strings. My friend who uses his strings says that Mr. Dlugolecki uses varnish on the strings which protect against moisture which is a big concern for me, especially in the climate I live in. Bill, thanks for the kind words, good to see you on here. I hope you've been doing well :)

January 28, 2007 at 12:40 PM · Hi,

Bill - thanks for the kind words... You made my weekend! :=)

Nate - I have used Dlugolecki's strings, which were excellent. I have not tried Daniel Larson's, but hear very good things.

If you plan on using them, a couple of things... Players at the turn of the twentieth century, and later on used very thick gut strings; much thicker than baroque players use (that seems to be an artistic choice). I used gut strings in a period performance around the Schumann - Joachim - Brahms circle using gauges like Joachim would have used (suggested by Dlugolecki). They were quite thick. Both Mr. Larson and Dlugolecki may be able to suggest something that would work for you.

Nice to see you here again and Cheers!

January 28, 2007 at 07:02 PM · I have used a mixture of Dlugolecki and Larson gut strings since last May, and have had positive experiences with both (except some of the Larson 'e's have been short-lived). Both makers have provided prompt and excellent service when ordering.

Here (in no particular order) are a variety of points you might find helpful. To place it in context, I'm an active amateur, practice over 2 hrs/day, and play chamber music often for longer periods. So the strings are getting a lot of use.

* Both have a LOT of information on their web sites, which is very useful reading.

* Both sell both varnished and unvarnished versions of their strings. I've only used the varnished, and found it quite satisfactory.

* Their strings have been very pitch-stable and (except for the e's) long-lived for me.

* 9 weeks is the longest any 'e' has lasted (Dlugolecki), some as short as 10 days. But I think the sound quality and lack of whistling makes it worth it. Just lay in a good supply when you order.

* My finger tips feel better with gut strings; no more black marks, no more sore calloused tips.

* Larson makes his own design tightly double-wound style of gut 'd' called "Pistoy" (explained on his web site, gamutstrings.com) that seems more responsive than the traditional gut d (which I've tried from Dlugolecki). Worth considering.

* Gauges make a difference, and are worth experimenting with. I was lucky in finding a dealer who stocks Larson's strings (Claire Givens in Minneapolis), so you can actually feel the gauges of different strings before buying, which I'd recommend. I think not only the violin, but also the bow, hair used on the bow, and rosin are all variables in determining what gauges work best for a given player and instrument. I'm still experimenting, have moved toward a thicker e and thinner d. Dlugolecki's medium 'A' has been a joy; same string since 6/1/06, hardly ever needs tuning, sounds wonderful.

* Both Larson and Dlugolecki will cut and tie the strings before shipping if you request it; no extra charge. I recommend this. Otherwise you will receive double length e & a strings, which you need to cut in the middle with a scissor, and have to tie the knot yourself (one of them provides instructions, I forget which).

* One of the major differences (compared with synthetic and even wound metal-on-gut strings) I've found with bare gut strings is that they are alive, they have a warmup period, sound different at different points in my practice session and on different days. Such variety makes them more interesting, at least for someone who doesn't have the stress of professional performance.

Sorry for the length; hope this account of my experience is of some use.

January 28, 2007 at 09:09 PM · That's some really interesting stuff Christian and Eric. Thank you for those tips, I will definitely talk to them about gauge differences, I tend to like to dig in quite a bit, so perhaps a thicker gauge would suit me more.

NR

January 28, 2007 at 10:49 PM · Greetings,

Nate, it might actually work the other way for you. Today`s players have a fantastic sound more often than not, but they have to work damn hard to get it form stirngs such a Pirazzi, or even dominant, compared to gut strings. The gut forces you to use a faster , lighter bow stroke, often closer to the fingerboard, although a slow bow stroke on gut next to the bridge is one of the most beautiful sounds in string palyign bar none.

It really can change the way you play the isntrument.

Bon Voyage,

Buri

January 29, 2007 at 11:12 AM · Buri, I would have agreed with you until I bought a new instrument recently, which reacted poorly to gut strings. I can't even say what exactly it was, except that on my old instrument, gut stings came alive in a warm and subtle way, full of complex tonal color and sensitivity. On the new instrument, they sounded dull and over-sensitive. The experience was revealing. I love gut strings, and I bought an instrument that hates them. Go figure.

January 29, 2007 at 10:25 PM · Hey Buri, thanks for the advice. I think probably the gut strings might react a little bit more sensitively to every touch - much like a nice sports car. It will be fun experimenting with these new strings for sure, I just placed my order today with Mr. Dlugolecki. I actually spoke with him over the phone - he really knows his stuff. I am really looking forward to trying these strings. Emily - I also heard that about certain new instruments not reacting well to gut strings. I tried 2nd rate gut strings before on a modern instrument and had a bad experience but then saw some people I know use these fine gut strings with wonderful results. My teacher told me that the gut string really sound super good on a nice vintage Guarneri and other fine aged instruments.

January 30, 2007 at 02:20 AM · The other thing about "sounding good" is that they may sound quite scratchy and coarse under your ear (you hear all sorts of bow sounds) yet sound beautiful 5 feet away. Or at least that is the excuse I give for why Gabriel Kastelle sounded so good when he played my fiddle, whereas I do not! (Of course there is that ever so slightly important thing called skill...)

January 30, 2007 at 04:42 AM · Greetings,

Emily, are you talking about wound gut or plain gut?

Cheer,s

Buri

January 30, 2007 at 09:31 AM · It was wound (Oliv). I was reluctant to shell out money for unwound gut after this experience, since $27 for a set of Dominants seemed to work just fine. But if gut lasts, longer, it might be worth the risk.

The tuning of the wound gut really stressed me out on performance days, because I knew that the humidity would change in the room when all the people filled it. That, along with stage lights, and I could count on them to swing out of tune. What does everyone else do about that? Surely, that's a problem, isn't it?

(apologies for sidetracking on this thread)

January 30, 2007 at 12:11 PM · Just got my violin in today to have the bridge slightly modified and a new tailpiece fitted. I have a new set of Dlugolecki strings to put on: the 18 1/4 silver wound g, a 20 1/2 plain gut d, 16 plain gut a, and 12 1/4 plain gut e. Artistically, I still consider myself to be a modern violinist. But my fiddle is looking distinctly (and with distinction, I think)19th Century. It is even slowly developing a subtle chin mark...but I shan't rekindle that topic.

I have also ordered some aquila strings. Thanks to all of the posters on v.com who have freely given such excellent advice on plain gut violin strings these last few months. I have learned so much from all of you. I'm thinking chiefly of Eric, Finn, Bilbo, Oliver, Christian and Buri. I may have forgotten someone else... if so, thank you to you also!

January 30, 2007 at 02:03 PM · Finn Möricke had great information and photos, too! In fact he showed that it is possible to use plain gut on a wittner tailpiece with built-in adjusters (see his photos of tying a bit of fishing line backing to the e string).

Emily: as far as tuning stability *and* sound goes, plain (not wound) gut is totally different from Oliv and other wound gut. The plain is very pitch stable. The windings on Oliv and Eudoxa etc mute the sound and knock off a lot of the upper partials. Interestingly the wound G string by Dlugolecki is also very pitch stable, but it is made differently from the Oliv G.

January 30, 2007 at 07:42 PM · I guess someone should also warn you what to expect with plain gut e's. The following will sound horrible, but apparently it goes with the territory, since it has happened to every one of the Dlugolecki and Larson plain gut e's I've used.

At some point, ranging from a week to 6 weeks after installation (6 weeks if you're really lucky), the e-string will start to shed little "hairs" (don't know what else to call them), most typically at the neck end. They can be trimmed off carefully with a nail scissor if they bother you. That signals the beginning of the end of life for that string. Next the string will gradually lose its resonance and responsiveness. I test resonance by simply plucking the open string - when it goes "thunk", you've got a week at most, but if you're playing for anyone (i.e., other than personal practice) it's time to change it.

Luckily gut e-strings are cheap, and seem to break in quickly. I am not trying to discourage you, just warning you to expect the above and know it is not unusual. Is it? (other plain gut-e users chime in here to agree/disagree . . . ?)

In my experience this has happened only with the plain gut e-strings, not with a-d-g. I assume this has to do with the higher tension that e's are under.

January 30, 2007 at 08:53 PM · Greetings,

Emily, the stirngs being discussed prior to your message are unwound. It is not the same thing.

However, I hae had a similar expeirence with Olive choking modern instruments . Sometimes it seems a really bright synthetic string gives them a kind of jump start,

Cheers,

Buri

January 31, 2007 at 09:04 PM · Hi,

I've been using plain gut for about a year now. I've tried Dlugolecki, Gamut, Kuerschner. Right now I'm trying Aquila strings, and so far, they're my favorite. I've had them on for about two months and show almost no signs of aging, and they stay in tune best of any gut string I've tried.

It may sound odd, but using a little olive oil can help the tuning and extend the life of the string. I put a little bit of oil on my strings every night, and it has helped. There are also some oils designed for gut strings by string manufacturers. Also, I find the strings need to be 'warmed up' to be stable. After about 15-30 minutes of playing they seem adjust to the humidity and are more stable.

Jon - Where did you order your aquila strings from? I've been trying to find another place to get them from, since their U.S distibutor seems unreliable (he hasn't responded to my last two emails).

I'm glad to see the number of gut string users is growing. They really seem to offer the play a larger range of color and dynamic than synthetic.

January 31, 2007 at 09:11 PM · That's some interesting stuff Chris. I've been meaning to ask some of you gut string veterans how you clean your gut strings. Is it safe to use rubbing alcohol on plain unwound varnished gut strings? I use alcohol on my synthetic strings but I am not sure if it might hurt the plain gut if I do the same thing.

February 1, 2007 at 06:29 AM · No, do NOT use alchohol. I have some Royal Oak string cleaner which i believe had alcohol in it, and it ate my strings. They were useless in around 20 minutes. I believe Pirastro makes an oil for gut, as does Kuerschner, and probably some other brands around too.

February 1, 2007 at 11:06 AM · Hi Chris,

I ordered my aquila strings from their website which is based in italy I believe (its in English as well as Italian). I haven't received my strings yet, nor been advised that they have been despatched, but hopefully they should arrive soon.

The website is www.aquilacorde.com. Best of luck. I'm putting the new Dlugolecki strings on first, so it may be some time before I get around to trying the aquila strings. I wanted to have some spare in case I broke some strings. I have been using Pirastro chordas which I didn't mind at all. I want to give some other brands a go and see what works for me best.

February 1, 2007 at 03:51 PM · Chris, thanks for the advice. I will definitely not use alcohol now :)

February 10, 2007 at 11:42 PM · I got my aquila strings in the post about a week ago. Very good, very fast service. I'm busy trying out my new strings!

February 11, 2007 at 12:10 AM · Good to hear that Jon. What gauges did you get? How do you like them? I got mine last week, I just love the sound of plain gut d&a, and wound gut g. I think my tone is actually a little bit bigger with these strings and also I'm able to get many different kinds of tones which I think is really neat. In addition, I've noticed these strings are a bit more sensitive if I am not on the sounding point or if the bow is not square to the bridge.

February 20, 2007 at 08:04 AM · Sorry Nate, I just saw your message today. The Aquila strings I got are e 62, a 79, and d 104. I haven't ordered an Aquila g yet. So far, I've just been using the Aquila e string.

Actually, I've been having some problems adjusting to the gut e. Whistling, and 'stalling' (no sound coming from the instrument on occasional notes, as if the bow was just scating along the top of the string in a totally unproductive way). Alas, I am at the moment a bit dissatisfied with my lot (it doesn't help that I have a d*** cold, either, with headaches and sore throat).

At first I had a Dlugolecki e string on, but thought that maybe the string was false. So I put an Aquila e string on. There was a slight improvement, but still a few problems. I suspect my bowing has gotten too used to a steel e, and is having problems adjusting. One thing I thought of is that perhaps I was using too much bow tilt (the stick leaning toward the fingerboard).

If anyone can help with a bit of friendly advice I would be most appreciative.

*Sniff*

February 20, 2007 at 09:46 PM · Hi, If your hands perspire when you play, or you've had wire-wound strings that were eaten away by perspiration, you want to be really careful using gut. I'd encourage you to wash your hands regularly and dry well. I don't know if using an antipersperant on your hands would be good or bad. Sometimes that's recommended for people whose chemical makeup eats metal. Maybe something from a health-food/organic place would be safe. Certainly gently wipe and dry th strings when done playing.. And tune extra slowly. No rapid peg-turning. Try to control reduce how much you loosen and re-tighten pegs while tuning. Actually good advice for retaining sound of any kind of string longer. Sue

February 21, 2007 at 01:43 AM · That's some good advice Sue. I would make sure to wash hands regularly. Certainly with gut strings, they can erode if you do not keep them clean. A little update, I'm trying Pirastro Chordas now again for my D&A strings. I have to say they are very good. I've found out from a very reliable source in the last few days that most gut string makers including the one I was using make their strings with beef gut, however with Pirastro, they use sheep gut which is a much stronger substance.

February 21, 2007 at 04:01 AM · Hi Nate,

Regarding strength etc Sheep vs Cow, the following link has some interesting discussion:

http://www.tennis-warehouse.com/LC/Naturalgut.html

"the tensile strength and length of sheep gut doesn't lend itself well to today's tennis game. Today's larger, stiffer racquets require not only more string, but string with greater tensile strength.

"Fortunately for tennis players, the serosa from a cow's intestine fits the bill nicely. A cow's serosa has a greater tensile strength than sheep gut and it is also longer."

February 21, 2007 at 04:10 AM · Greetings,

are you sure it`s not a load of bull?

Cheers,

buri

February 21, 2007 at 04:14 AM · That's interesting stuff Bill. I've found the sheep gut strings by Pirastro (especially the a string) to hold better on my fiddle. I've always wondered if the amount of tension with gut strings is different than from the amount of tension with synthetics. If anyone knows the answer to that, I'd be most interested.

Also what does everyone think about Pirastro Eudoxa g-strings?

February 21, 2007 at 07:00 AM · Nate,

Briefly:

* I've been told by everyone I've ever asked that gut strings have much lower tension. In that sense, according to one luthier I talked with, they are kinder to the instrument.

* Evidence of the above - Dlugolecki suggests that when installing a gut string you lift it off the bridge several times to distribute tension evenly. I've found it very easy to do (except thin gut e's when fully tuned). Try doing that with a non-gut string.

* I gave this reference in an earlier v.com thread on this subject. If you want to find out more about how gut strings are made than you'd ever want to know, go here (Daniel Larson's site for Gamut Strings).

* What about Eudoxa G-string? Just speaking personally, when I switched to bare gut on e-a-d, I kept my Eudoxa G on, because it simply sounds so good (rich), and fits well with the others. Seems to last forever, so any removal will be discretionary, not forced by deterioration.

February 21, 2007 at 07:32 AM · This is a very interesting and informative thread. I've been toying with the idea of trying guts on my other viola. I think I'll do it now and give it a try.

February 21, 2007 at 01:15 PM · Nate Robinson wrote: "Also what does everyone think about Pirastro Eudoxa g-strings?"

On my violin, and for my personal taste, they are the best. I have never found any to equal them in tonal beauty. I've tried many different brands, including Oliv. I use the 17 1/4 Eudoxa G.

February 21, 2007 at 03:18 PM · Oliver, and Eric, thanks for your advice. Would the Eudoxa g-string work well with Pirastro chorda D&A strings? Eric that's interesting about the tension being less with gut strings. That might perhaps explain why my pegs and tailpiece react better to these strings.

February 21, 2007 at 06:54 PM · Certainly the Chorda D & A would go well with the Eudoxa G, as long as the guages are correct. With my 17 1/4 Eudoxa G I use a 21 plain gut D, 16 plain gut A and medium Wondertone Solo E. Pirastro has a chart on their web site which shows which guages go together. The guage of wound gut D that goes with a 17 1/4 G is different than the guage of plain gut D that correlates to a 17 1/4 G. Regarding pitch stability: Using the bow's weight *alone* (no string bending allowed--no added pressure) is a current obsession in my practicing. It requires a different juggling of the other factors: bow speed, contact point.

(Nate Robinson--Would you kindly share anything that Mr. Friedman may have said on this topic?)

Use of bow weight alone results in the following benefits: 1. Pitch is more stable. 2. Fancy bow speed changes are more facile. 3.Dynamic changes and nuances are easier to do smoothly. 4. Tone is bigger!!! Yes, bigger!! and more effortless in feel and in sound. When I want more weight into the string while playing at the tip I bring my right hand closer to the ceiling, to pour the weight into the string, rather than press. JH said: "The more you press, the less comes out!" JH videos show him sweeping right hand toward ceiling as downbow approaches tip.

February 21, 2007 at 09:04 PM · Well Oliver, Erick Friedman really did not actually talk much about strings with me. He did use the Heifetz set up -- silver would gut g (something similar to the Eudoxa or Tricolor Gamut string), a&d plain gut, and Goldbrokat e-string when he was young. He switched to synthetics in the 1970's till the end of his career.

Friedman did however bring up something he did learn from Heifetz relating to bowing and sound production, something that many players like Kreisler and all the others that used gut strings learned to do according to Heifetz, and that was to protect the sound with the vibrato. The harder Mr. Friedman dug into the string, in order to give the string extra threshold (he learned from Heifetz) that any weight or pressure with the bow had to be matched with a vibrato intensity commensurate to the pressure of the bow.

I sometimes remember Mr. Friedman in masterclasses showing this nifty trick to new students, and seeing the looks of excitement on their faces hearing the end result. He would first get his student to play a d-natural in 3rd position on the a-string without vibrato. He would then tell that student to press the bow into the string with flat hair and make an ugly scratchy sound without vibrato. After this, he would tell the student to add the vibrato with the same bow pressure, and the sound was completely different with beauty and strength at the same time.

February 22, 2007 at 12:53 AM · Nate,

I've encountered that idea before and must admit that I'm very uncomfortable with it. My own observations, experiments, study tend to take me in the opposite direction: finding how little pressure I can use, rather than how much. Every time I think I've gotten a sound that I like by compensating with other bow factors and using less pressure I like the result. The problem for me is that I have enormous repect for Erick Friedman's playing, so I want to give the most serious consideration to his ideas. I think that he was enormously under-appreciated, and was amongst the greatest of violinists. I have to take the idea very seriously, and grapple with it some more, because of its source. Do you recall him ever discussing the possibility of playing with the bow's own weight, without added pressure?

February 22, 2007 at 02:25 AM · Oliver,

Of course I know where you are coming from. Either extreme of playing with the bow held away from the string or pressing the bow too hard in Mr. Friedman's opinion were both not good. He did believe that in the classical and baroque repertoire, not much more than the natural weight of the bow was needed. He did however teach us all to add a little bit of pressure at the tip to sustain the sound.

Nate

February 23, 2007 at 02:56 PM · Anyone have experience with Pirastro Gold label g-strings? Are they that much different from Eudoxas?

Also besides the usual distributors that I use (Shar (which doesn't currently carry chordas) and Southwest Strings), are there any other good places in North America to order strings online?

February 23, 2007 at 02:59 PM · I always use:

www.gostrings.com

Very low prices. Just be sure to specify exactly what you want. Gauges etc.

February 23, 2007 at 05:20 PM · Nate wrote: "Also besides the usual distributors that I use (Shar (which doesn't currently carry chordas) and Southwest Strings), are there any other good places in North America to order strings online? "

Concord Musical Supplies. I've bought strings from them often, and recommend them for having strings in stock, for service and for price.

February 25, 2007 at 02:27 AM · Thank you Kristian and Oliver for that info.

Have you tried Dlugolecki strings Oliver?

I have to say I've been very impressed by their tone on my fiddle.

One bit of advice I would give to everyone trying gut strings for the first time, is a bit of advice I think mentioned on here already by Eric - something that Damian Dlugolecki told me over the phone the other day. He suggested that when installing gut strings, tune them up very slowly, and gently, in addition, Damian told me to gently tug on the bit of string that goes over the bridge while installing the string in order to spread the tension of the string out evenly while tuning the string up.

One interesting thing I read on the Pirastro website regarding gut string care, according to them, they suggest to tune the strings down 1/4 tone at the end of the day. I believe I heard somewhere, maybe it was from Erick Friedman, that Milstein did this too.

February 26, 2007 at 12:48 PM · Hello (and help!)

Can any of you professional violinists help me out with a big problem I have? My plain gut e string seems to be too fat for me to handle.

My plain gut e (at about 0.62) is thicker than the plain gut Chorda e's I used to use. I find that the thicker e is very difficult to play on, yet the thicker plain gut strings seem to be in vogue. Perhaps the humidity here at this time of year is the cause of the problem.

I am finding that I have to press down on the fingerboard with almost superhuman strength in order to get the e string to respond. It is violinistic murder writ large. Lots of squeaks and poor response.

What is going on here?

Buri, can you help me?

Can anyone? Oliver? Finn Moricke? Bilbo? Eric?

I am brought to my knees by this problem. Its sending me gray. If I can't solve this problem soon, its back to the ol' steel e string.

February 26, 2007 at 03:15 PM · Jon, I've never tried gut e-strings so I will not know as much as someone who has used them. If you are using in your words "superhuman" strength to push down the string, something isn't right. When installing the string did you tune it up very slowly and lift the string up from the bridge while doing so? This makes a world of a diffence to spread the tension out. How long have you had the gut e-string on? Also when installing the string it is important that the string wound in the pegbox makes contact with the pegbox wall. This will give the tone more center, and help the string stay due to the added friction. Can you describe more specifically where you have a problem? Is it more so in the higher registers? If it is, I think I might have a solution. Also one thing that you have to do if you hear squeaks, that means you aren't on the sounding point for that note. Take note of which note produces the squeak at the certain part of the string where the bow is placed and just simply move it to a different sounding point for that note.

February 26, 2007 at 03:54 PM · Jon,

I have tried plain gut e strings, but prefer the set up that many of the early twentieth century violinists used: metal e with thick uncovered D & A and thick gut-with-winding G. Heifetz, who seems to have been absolutely right about absolutely everything in his musical life, used this string set up til the end of his life. So, you might consider that the solution to your problem may be to use a steel E.

February 26, 2007 at 05:20 PM · I would agree with Oliver, this setup is really ideal I think. Many of the early 20th century violinists used a steel e, although, I do remember reading an interview with Toscha Seidel where he did say he prefered a gut e-string. You can fill up a large concert hall with sound using this combination of a wound gut g, d&a uncovered, and a steel e. I'd recommend using the Goldbrokat e-string, it goes very well with gut strings, and it was the e-string of choice for Mr. Heifetz, Milstein, and Menuhin. My teacher Mr. Friedman used it during the time he was a student of Heifetz, I also enjoy using the Goldbrokat e-string. Goldbrokats are very affordable too (about $1.30 each).

February 26, 2007 at 11:20 PM · According to the Aquila Corda site, Paganini may have used gut e's of around .70 mm. I don't know what pitch standard he played at though.

No doubt there are factors in setup which have to be changed to make this work.

February 26, 2007 at 11:26 PM · I love the way my plain gut e plays, but I am a hack amateur. It is a 12-1/2 gage. It doesn't require any great strength, but it does change with the humidity. I find the D string to be most sensitive this way, though. Too dry seems to be bad for the sound, but having only done a little over a year on gut, I'll need to see how they sound this summer.

Also, rosin makes a big difference for me. Too little and it is just not possible to get a good sound. Too much and it is crunchy. Somewhere in the middle it is just sweet.

I had a greater tendency to whistle on a steel e but again, my technique is hardly good.

I find the most outstanding aspect of the gut e is that it blends more with the other strings--especially as an open string. Steel e strings have a markedly different open sound than the other strings.

But my fiddle sounded a lot better when fellow Vcom member Gabriel played it.

February 26, 2007 at 11:42 PM · nate and others, a while back, i got some old stuff from a violinist, including a dozen or so of gut E strings. any of you guys want to try and play with it, let me know, i will send you couple.

one is labelled Adolf Durrschmidts no 139, crimean gut tested and warranted,,,,and the other one is CA muller's Eternelle ..is the most reliable string in existence, as it claims, lol.

February 27, 2007 at 01:39 AM · Nate wrote: ".... I do remember reading an interview with Toscha Seidel where he did say he prefered a gut e-string. "

I'm not absolutely positive, but I think that the interview to which you refer, with Frederick Martens, was given when Seidel was quite young. I believe he used a steel E later on and for the major part of his career. I'll look at some Seidel photos and at the movie "Melody for Three", in which Seidel can be seen playing briefly in one scene (and heard on the soundtrack throughout the movie). Perhaps some of these images will show clearly which E was used at the time. I imagine that those spectacular late1940s Seidel RCA recordings were made with a steel E.

February 27, 2007 at 03:06 AM · Jon,

You wrote (in italics below):

Can any of you professional violinists help me out with a big problem I have?

First, I am definitely not a professional. So I'll issue a disclaimer on the advice below (may be worth what you paid for it . . .)

My plain gut e string seems to be too fat for me to handle. My plain gut e (at about 0.62) is thicker than the plain gut Chorda e's I used to use. I find that the thicker e is very difficult to play on, yet the thicker plain gut strings seem to be in vogue.

Running your measurement through Dlugolecki's string gauge converter, this is roughly equivalent to a 12.5 gauge plain gut e, which happens to be what I've been using. This is not particularly thick; both Dlugolecki and Larson make several levels of thicker ones. Thicker e's also last longer, BTW.

Perhaps the humidity here at this time of year is the cause of the problem.

Maybe, but I've not had problems in a humid American mid-west summer either.

I am finding that I have to press down on the fingerboard with almost superhuman strength in order to get the e string to respond . . .Lots of squeaks and poor response.

Without hearing/seeing you, I will offer only some possibilities to check out.

* Bow position, especially important is correct angle of attack (parallel to the bridge).

* Violin position: in higher positions bow seems more prone to skitter on a gut e (your problem?), important that instrument is close to level, esp. end to end.

* Rosin: already pointed out, both too little and too much are bad.

* Warmup period: gut strings do seem to have to warm up, mine take 20 minutes or so of playing to sound good. May be subjective, though.

* Finger pressure: try Exercises 145-146 in Simon Fischer's Basics.

I recall a comment on an earlier v.com thread on gut strings, maybe from Oliver Steiner: that gut strings are more revealing of any deficiencies in one's technique. I have certainly found that true for myself.

All that said, yes, I have found the gut e's tricky to play on, especially in very high positions, but the rich sound well rewards the greater care required.

Hope this has given you some leads.

Eric

PS My experience has been identical to Bilbo's on every one of the issues he addresses above.

February 27, 2007 at 05:28 AM · Eric, you are right on to point out how gut strings are more revealing to bring out technical deficiencies, especially with bowing. I noticed that when I started with gut strings, I needed to work a lot on making my bow changes and string crossings a lot smoother. They just weren't good enough. Also if the bow is not straight or on the incorrect sounding point, the string will squeal.

I think the synthetic strings I was using, swept the problems I had, under the carpet. I can honestly say my bowing has become better after using these strings.

Oliver, I think you are right about Seidel using a steel e later on. I think the interview was from early in his career where he said that.

PS Jon, you might want to try Dlugolecki strings. They are absolutely super gut strings in my opinion

February 27, 2007 at 10:16 AM · Thanks guys for all your great responses. I can't reply to all of you so I'll just put in one reply and try to cover all the ground that's been covered.

Well, I quite understand that gut strings will quickly show up technical deficiencies. Perhaps my bowing really does have some problems but I am not convinced yet. I've been playing for twenty years, and never had problems with steel e strings or the gut Chorda strings I used to play on (11.5 gauge). At this stage I am fairly convinced that there is something not quite right about the current gut e strings I am using. I am sure that (for me; or for my violin) the gauge is just too thick.

The other thing is that I am finding that I have the exact opposite of problems with plain gut strings that other players mention. For one, I find the D string quite easy to play on and to get a good sound (touch wood). It is the e I find to be bl**** hard to play.

I think that what I'll do is order some thinner guage strings and be done with it. Hopefully that will fix the problem. The other possibility is that there is something wrong with my violin (or with me, but heck I can't be so bad as that).

Life is a fight (sometimes).

P.S. Any baroque violinists out there who can give me some much-welcomed advice? I'm not an original instrument/performance practice person but I'm a good listener.

P.P.S. Hi Al Ku, I'm interested in sampling one of those strings you have kindly offered. How do I contact you?

February 27, 2007 at 12:21 PM · I have egg on my face. I think. Wait, I'll just go check in the mirror.

I got my violin out about an hour ago and have just completed an hour's practice. Amazing, but the e string has decided to capitulate. I think it must have decided to quit; to accept the fact that I'm a stubborn fellow and that I want to play with a gut e string.

It now seems to be responding to my bow and to my left hand. What a mystery!

Maybe it really is just the weather, and things are currently less humid or something. Whatever the case, I hope that the plain gut e string is, for me, here to stay.

February 27, 2007 at 12:45 PM · jon, i will just send it to you, email me the address. regards

February 28, 2007 at 03:55 AM · This thread is as good a spot as any for the following (even though it does concern wound, not unwound gut strings, and cello, not violin). This was contained in a publicity e-mailing today from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; the interview was with Steven Isserlis, their cello soloist for this weekend's concerts (in Tchaikovsky's "Rococo Variations"):

Q: Tell us about playing on wound gut strings. What are the advantages and disadvantages?

A: For me, the main advantages of playing on gut are the more human quality of the sound and the simplicity with which one can play. Steel strings can sound wonderful - needless to say - but one has to work in order to bring them to life; with gut, the sound is alive, and therefore (rather paradoxically) one can do LESS with them (if that makes sense!)

February 28, 2007 at 06:03 AM · That's exactly how I feel about these strings. Very interesting to hear that from him. I did know he used gut strings.

February 28, 2007 at 06:17 AM · Anyone by the way happen to know what kind of strings Michael Rabin used?

March 21, 2007 at 01:19 AM · Everyone seems to say that gut E's don't last very long compared to the other pitches. But, is there any sort of warning to look for that a gut E is about to give out, or does it just snap unexpectedly? The last thing I would want would be to be in the middle of a concert and have my E string break.

March 21, 2007 at 02:55 AM · Michael - I believe one warning sign is if the string starts to peel and the little threads start coming out.

March 21, 2007 at 07:31 AM · Ditto what Nate said. Actually the peeling with little threads is the only sign, and it is gradual, so you have plenty of warning. The next step after that is that the string gradually goes dead (less and less resonance when you pluck the open string). Long before it will break on its own, you will have probably changed it. FWIW, I've been told by Dlugolecki that thicker gauge E's last longer; I will shortly put that to the test, though my current Larson E seems intent on lasting through a master class I have to play at in 9 days (fingers crossed here), thereby setting a Larson-E longevity record (would be 6 weeks).

March 21, 2007 at 10:42 AM · My gut e string snapped the other day (while practising). Years ago, I had one do a high-speed unwind, the pitch going down in a kind of quick glissando. This time it just went 'pop'.

I had noticed that a fairly thick bit had come loose there a few days before it broke. I'd been playing on the string for 2 weeks, in terrible humid weather.

I have given in somewhat, and decided to maintain two different types of set ups. I have two violins, and I'll use one with all plain gut strings (silver wound g), and the other with dominants. The best of both worlds! I use the same bow and general playing set up for both.

March 21, 2007 at 11:59 AM · There are ways to keep the E string from being cut in two by the bow that would probably work. Also, I was thinking Pirastro wouldn't sell strings that wouldn't stay in tune. If bare gut has a tendency to slip on the peg, you could knot it up there too.

March 21, 2007 at 12:50 PM · I set my Strad copy up with Eudoxa Brilliant G 16 gauge, Larson Academie D and A heavy gauge, and the Goldbrokat medium E. Fantastic sound, power, and I felt spicatto bounces nicely off gut. Don't know why but the Goldbrokat E is absolutely non-whistling.

We'll see what happens with humidity and temperatures rising but I'm very happy with my bare gut experience so far.

March 21, 2007 at 02:04 PM · Joe- is the Larsen Academie unwound gut? Yes Goldbrokat is a great e-string, I use heavy gauge e-strings. Just out of curiosity can the plain gut e-strings project as much as the steel e-strings? What are the tonal differences between the steel and gut e?

March 21, 2007 at 02:11 PM · When you practice with your ears closed (wax or cotton or anything) you hear immediatly the difference between the plain gut A and the steel E!

March 21, 2007 at 02:28 PM · Nate,

In any of the great Ansel Adams photographs one sees a spectacular tonal range from darkest black, through numerous shades of gray, to most brilliant pure paper-white. One may sometimes see a lesser b&w photo which has, for example, some very light gray-*almost white*. For me the steel E provides a most brilliant sound, equivalent to the extreme paper white highlight. The brilliance serves as a contrast to the bassy and mellow tones of the other strings. That's my explanation for preferring the string selection used by Heifetz over the same selection, but with gut E.

The Academie uncovered gut D's are first class-excellent strings.

March 21, 2007 at 03:42 PM · Oliver, are you talking about the Academie Lyon gut D or the Pistoy gut D? Have you tried both?

March 21, 2007 at 06:21 PM · I'm referring to the Lyon Gut D. I haven't tried the Pistoy.

March 22, 2007 at 12:05 PM · Well, the problem was that the string literally unwound itself. It came apart in a cataclysmic 'unwind' event, but without actually snapping in half. Only about half of the fibres snapped. Indeed it was a Pirastro Chorda e string. The string was old and it was due to break. It didn't slip on the peg. Sorry if I didn't make that clear.

The aquila e string snapped at about the position of A, first position finger 3. As I say, I don't hold it against the makers because the weather had been unbelievably humid. 2 weeks was probably excellent durability, considering the conditions. It started to unravel a bit before it snapped. I think you would have a pretty good chance of surviving a concert without a gut e snapping. You can see from the condition of the surface of the string as to where it is in its life (much like the mortal, fragile, often lovable beings that spend their alloted days playing upon them).

Regarding the projection of the gut e string, while not an expert, I feel that the projection would be just as good as a steel e. It is a thicker, meatier sound, somehow. The steel e to me sounds superior in an ethereal sort of way (more like a modern flute, or a soprano). The gut e has the edge on the steel e when you are looking for more body and earthiness to the sound, slightly. It sounds a bit more like an oboe or a mezzo. These are subjective generalisations only. A gut e probably is capable of very fine sounds equalling the purity of the steel e. It is hard to judge when the string is right under your ear. I'm describing what I hear when I play.

Edit: It is not quite right for me to say that the gut e sounds like an oboe. It doesn't. It is hard to describe the sound, actually. It just sounds more 'stringy' most of the time.

March 22, 2007 at 12:08 PM · Hi,

I played a concert with a gut E last fall as part of a special project involving works from composers in the Joachim circle (we used a Graff piano similar to the one owned by Schumann and later acquired by Brahms).

The gut E had a beautiful sound but it takes a lot of care to play well (gauge was heavy - like 13 1/2). Things however like all the accents for passages on the E string in a work like the Brahms Scherzo from the FAE sonata make sense - notes just don't come out without these accents in the bow.

I think that if you are playing however with a modern piano or in most modern contexts the gut E lacks the definition and colour like Mr. Steiner said of the steel E necessary for most passages in the modern repertoire. I believe this is why most soloists who switched to the steel E stuck with it after WWI.

My own two cents...

Cheers!

March 22, 2007 at 12:37 PM · Well said, Christian.

March 22, 2007 at 05:31 PM · Thank you Jon and Oliver for your information on gut e-strings. I also agree Oliver, that the steel e works great with the unwound d&a, and wound gut g. I've been using this setup for the last month/month and a half, and I do not think I will go back to synthetic d,a, & g-strings ever again! It has a made a world of a difference in my playing, especially with the certain things Mr. Friedman taught me he learned from Heifetz about vibrato protecting the bow. I can really do this with gut strings and play on flat hairs without the sound screeching, which I couldn't with synthetics.

One bit of advice a friend of mine (who uses gut strings) gave me (regarding the installation of gut strings) is to apply pencil graphite to the nut and bridge grooves before putting on the strings. This will help spread out the tension of the string while also serving as a lubricant. In addition I have noticed after using the graphite, the strings really hold pitch much better.

March 22, 2007 at 10:57 PM · Greetings,

Christian, I also use the Goldbrokat and think it is fine. Can`t honestly say I find the gut e strings lacking in brilliance. One reason I love them is that played close to the bridge with a slow stroke they produce a very specific color which I think is central to a `Beethoven sound` that doe snot exist on synthetic or metal strings. I think that although the trade offf in brilliance is fine the loss of that peculiarity is very sad.

Persoanlly, I broke six gut es in one week so I will remain steadfats in my belive that epople changed because they were sick of dicing with death.

Cheers,

Buri

March 23, 2007 at 02:06 AM · A lot of great info on strings on this thread. At the present time I am using Pirastro Aricore Violin Strings on my violin. I am wondering would I hear a difference in tone if I tried the Pirastro Eudoxa Violin Strings? I don't play on a Strad...lol, I have a German made reproduction of an Amati that was made in 1890. Any comments would be appreciated. Thanks, Rick

March 23, 2007 at 12:25 PM · Hi,

Buri - you are right that the colour cannot be matched by a steel E. I don't think that brilliance is what I was refering to. Like I said, there is a kind of definition and colour that is so unique but that takes a lot of care to get for a lot of late 19th century works (like a Dvorak symphony). In the repertoire that we played (Schumann third sonata, FAE sonata, etc..) it was a colour that was just great.

Anyhow, that is just what I observed. Sitting in a section playing super-high passages in Dvorak 9, I couldn't get the kind of definition that blended well with the rest or the people around. I did try the Goldbrokat then, and it blended fine.

At this point, I am using synthetics again. The climate up here makes it basically impossible with all its extremes.

Cheers!

March 23, 2007 at 01:18 PM · Hello,

What is wrong with my bowing: the area of the string where my bow contact is, is getting thinner, like being shaved by the hairs. Has anyone an answer?

March 23, 2007 at 04:44 PM · Rick I don't think it would be a huge difference in tone quality between Aricores and Eudoxas. If I'm not mistaken they are both aluminum wound on gut. The gauges offered for both are a little too small for my taste.

March 23, 2007 at 05:04 PM · Hey Nate Thanks for responding. The Aricores are Synthetic core and the Eudoxas are gut core.

March 23, 2007 at 05:58 PM · Hi Rick, I was under the impression Aricore strings were wound gut after looking at this chart of gut strings on the Pirastro website: http://pirastro.com/pdf/Violin_Gut.pdf

If you scroll down all the way "Eudoxa-Aricore" is on the chart. Maybe that is a completely different string altogether. You would definitely hear a huge tonal difference if you switched from synthetics to gut strings. There's more center to the tone, in addition to the many vocal characteristics you will be able to draw out.

March 23, 2007 at 06:30 PM · Then I think I'll try the Eudoxa strings next time I need a new set of strings. In regards to gut strings, I hear they go out of tune a good deal, and that's why I've been hesitant all these years from buying a set. I've bought the Aricore strings which I have on my violin at the moment from Southwest Strings. Thanks again Nate for your info, it is appreciated.

March 23, 2007 at 08:27 PM · Hi Rick, well yes they do take a little bit more time to stretch. Once they are stretched, a good set of gut strings should hold pretty well. Applying pencil graphite to the nut and bridge grooves will help the pitch hold quite well.

March 23, 2007 at 09:00 PM · Thanks again Nate.

March 26, 2007 at 09:56 PM · More and more, I'm becoming interested in trying out plain gut strings. I've been using Eudoxa's on a modern Bulgarian violin for something over a year and am pleased with the results, compared to Dominants, Tonicas, Visions, Obligatos... Sound-wise, they seem to last 'forever', not loosing their focus, tone and response like others I've tried. Physically of course they do wear out and need replacement but that's expected.

I've been reading the posts with interest but (unless I missed it) it's unclear to me whether other's using gut are doing so mainly on Baroque instruments and/or Baroque music or whether they're frequently used for more modern styles as well.

I'm an amateur involved in a string quartet (occasional gigs), playing several styles of pieces, mainly from the baroque and classical eras, mostly with a modern style. Assuming plain gut would suit my instrument, would it be appropriate to equip the violin for my purpose? Or are gut strings used mainly for period instruments and styles?

(In case it's relevant to the question, I'd probably start off with a wound G (probably Eudoxa, as I have some lying around), steel E and plain gut D & G.)

March 26, 2007 at 10:11 PM · There is obviously nothing inherently "period" about gut. It is all merely a a matter of gage of string to suit your fiddle.

You can also read about these ideas on Damian Dlugolecki's website, and at Daniel Larsen's stuff and some other places as well.

March 26, 2007 at 10:11 PM · Victor asks: "Or are gut strings used mainly for period instruments and styles?"

Listen to Heifetz's Sibelius Concerto and then you decide whether gut strings work well on modern instruments and are appropriate to post-Baroque repertoire!!

March 27, 2007 at 12:23 AM · Going at it from a different angle:

I recently posted about my very favorable response to the new Glasser Cf bow. (the one with the real wooden core, not the old cheaper model) The most important thing we discovered about this bow is that it brings out a wider timbral range from the violin than any Pernambuco bow we had. (we used over a dozen good-to very good bows, though none in the "Gennady" range) This is a wonderful thing. It makes me REALLY happy.

OK, here's my point:

While the timbral range is wider with this bow, the overall tone is still just a tad brighter than with even my stiffest Pernambuco bow (yet still fuller, which is surprising)

OK, sez I, perhaps the answer is to keep this very expressive bow, and set-up the violin itself to be a tad less bright. Are lightbulbs going off yet? Time to ditch the Pirazzis & Vision-T's and find something nice & warm & fat & .... Hmmm what could that be, do you think?

My obvious point: Whether you like CF bows or Pernambuco, going to pure gut might require a change of bows as well, if you want the benefits of gut without a too-radical shift in overall tone.

Another way might be to have the soundpost moved, or a new bridge cut. Would it be so strange to have one bridge for synthetic strings and another cut for gut strings?

Lots to think about .....

March 27, 2007 at 02:49 AM · "Assuming plain gut would suit my instrument, would it be appropriate to equip the violin for my purpose? Or are gut strings used mainly for period instruments and styles?"

Hi Victor,

I had that exact same question when I first started pondering the switch to plain gut strings. Oliver, already said what I was about to say. Heifetz, Milstein, and many others were able to produce large and most importantly beautiful tones from these strings. The plain gut will work perfectly for all repertoire of any era. It is a very different kind of sound from synthetics (much more vocal and centered IMO). You can project just as much if not more with these strings. In terms of plain gut strings to use, I would not recommend using strings with too small a gauge. Since, I play lots of romantic 19th century and 20th pieces, I tend to like thicker gauges especially for the a&d strings. Some say thicker gauge strings last longer. I highly recommend Damian Dlugolecki gut strings, I honestly couldn't be happier with them.

March 27, 2007 at 02:28 PM · Bill, Oliver, Nate: Good points. Thanks.

Do keep in mind that violinists like Heifetz, Milstein, etc had far more talent and skill than I do and far better instruments. They managed very well in pulling out the sound they wanted from gut strings but, for me, it could still be an up-hill, frustrating and perhaps pointless struggle.

Also, if they were around today with the expanding choice of (apparently) high-quality synthetics, I was unsure whether they'd continue to use gut. Perhaps at the time of their heights, gut was the still an excellent choice for more modern styles. Perhaps gut still is. Just wasn't sure.

March 27, 2007 at 02:38 PM · Heifetz and Milstein had synthetic strings available to them in their later years. They both chose not to use them.

March 27, 2007 at 02:59 PM · Hi Victor, I know if Mr. Heifetz was around today, he would probably use gut strings. He really loved the sound of these strings so much that he had all of his students use them, including my teacher, who was one of his pupils. The synthetics, and metal wound gut were already readily available during his career. Contemporary players to Heifetz, like Oistrakh, and Kogan already made the switch to steel strings.

I understand your apprehension completely Victor about trying these strings. You don't have to be as good as Heifetz to use these strings, and to make them work. If anything, from the time I started to use these strings, to now, I think these strings have improved my playing by teaching me to be more refined with my bowing, and sound production.

As far as your violin is concerned in how it will react to these strings, I wouldn't worry too much. Of course most violins do sound better with a certain string combination, but really if you think about it, the violin's design itself has not changed drastically (if at all) since the time of Vuillaume when makers decided to experiment with the length of the neck for acoustical purposes. At that time, it was the norm to use gut strings. The violin's design I think is contoured to accommodate the use of gut strings, more so than synthetics.

March 27, 2007 at 04:21 PM · I've had my first set of unwound gut strings on now for a little over a week (varnished, from Gamut Strings), and all I can say is: Wow, what a difference! They are so clear, even in the highest positions. It's actually much easier to articulate notes on these strings than on any synthetic I've tried. The dynamic range is awesome. The double stops are outrageous. I find it easier to play in tune. The only thing I prefer the wound synthetics (or any other wound string) for is the ease of sliding. The gut strings have just a bit of friction to them when sliding due to the texture of the gut. Since I play a lot of jazz, I do a lot of subtle sliding into and out of notes. I'm getting used to this factor, though, and don't see it as a significant negative. Otherwise, I think I'm completely hooked on these strings.

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